Tenderness and beauty turn to division and turmoil as environmental, world-wide crises wreak havoc for three diverse characters. This cautionary tale on climate has elements of the fantastical but its authenticity is undeniable. This is a unsettling reflection on humanity’s denial of the damage being caused to our planet
Forget over-hyped sports memoirs, this is a fast, pacy novel that conveys what football is really like. It focuses on the ref – the figure hated by pretty much everyone. Plus this ref is Black – the only one in the League. I didn’t know Rennie, I looked him him up when I finished and found out the whole story is true – even more respect for that.
This is a strange but mesmerising book. It tells of the detailed search into the life of Enayat al-Zayyat, a young Egyptian female author who committed suicide before the publication of her only novel. Also bound up with the posy-colonial politics of Egypt and, specifically, what happened to women under Nassar. It's by no means an easy read, but it is fascinating, and shows how the struggle continues across generations.
This isn’t a long novel but I came away feeling that I had been on a journey with the characters. Sometimes I loved them, sometimes I thought they were awful, but I was completely absorbed in their story. Transitioning is only a part - because the book is also about friendship, family and love, delivered through a story that exudes snark, exuberant youthfulness, and dances around everyone’s longing to be seen for who they really are.
After finding a fairytale written by an unknown American writer in the antiquarian bookshop where she works, Hazel embarks on a journey to find her long lost sibling. I found this a lovely tale of lost innocence, true friendship and the consolation of fantasy and nature.
A sparse and brutal read with an almost biblical sense of allegory. We are immersed, gut-deep, in the bloody reality of a slaughterhouse. We smell and sweat, kill and emote with the workers. The story that emerges is one of mystery - as cattle begin to behave strangely, the workers attempt to understand why. But this read is more one of sensory experience than plotting: it's as short and powerful as a stun-gun, but not without tenderness.
This highly poetic novel showed me a small mountain community where people live in symbiosis with animals, nature and the spirit world. I felt the cruelty of life, the resilience of the people and the beauty of seeing and accepting what is there. Told from different perspectives, be it human or non-human, the language has a beautiful echoing rhythm, ranging from astoundingly poetic to down-to-earth, all resonating in your head for a long time.
Emilia’s grief is forced into the spotlight as she struggles to align herself with her mother, an activist who changed the world though coordinating a mass suicide. Gripping from the outset, the reader experiences the shocks, revelations and confusion with the protagonist as she compiles her memoir, recounting her struggle to separate her mother from the personality propelled and twisted by the increasingly powerful Community she left behind.
A short story collection that may seduce or repel you, but is impossible to ignore. The stories reach extreme places of terror and horror, but are always grounded in a tangible reality and recognisable social divisions of class, adolescence and generational trauma. Although an intense reading experience, most of the stories are brief stabs, allowing you chance to gasp and reach for daylight in-between tales.
A unique and bitingly entertaining cocktail of reality TV satire and gory body-horror, this read will gleefully keep you on your toes. Set in the final stages of a reality TV dating show, we follow the power-plays of the remaining contestants where nothing is off-limits in their bid to win. It's a thrillingly fast and wild ride, often bloody and monstrous, but ultimately a hopeful one of queer solidarity and survival, both human and Sasquatch.
A hapless writer steals the unfinished manuscript of her late popular Asian friend. With its publication under her own name, the discussion about cultural appropriation gets going and everything becomes seriously out of hand. This novel is simultaneously satire, indictment and suspense. A brilliant combination that held my attention until the bitter end.
Set on a mysterious luxury train, this is a high velocity, surreal romp of a story. Journeying with non-honeymooners Xavier and Otto, the reader accumulates a bizarre collection of playful, dark and strange backstories. Reality, sanity and perception come into question as connections between the characters emerge. Prepare for the unexpected: for ancestral pet mongooses, paintings that can’t be seen but can be described and an invisible son.
Hold on tight for a whimsical romp with a subversive Victorian detective agency who challenge their society’s expectations about women, sexuality and gender whilst engaged in increasingly chaotic investigations. Told with wit, eccentricity and tenderness, this mysterious farce will have you gripped until the final page.
You might worry that an adventure tale of dolphins, featuring their intelligence and resourcefulness in overcoming the adversities of natural survival and ecological disaster, would feel anthropomorphically sentimental. Not so. The scientific research that Paull employs in her story raises it far above any such niceness, with a powerful moral message around environmental crisis.
Young Stalin in London in 1907, still with a heart, and the magnetic, legendary figures surrounding him. This short novel fizzes with politics, spying and sexual attraction. It’s direct and pacy and so believable it’s exhilarating, even in the bits you know must be invented.
This joyful romp of a book delivers an Edwardian heist fronted by an team of amazing women. The plotting is whip-smart and, as the action hots up, it delivers a high octane blast of energy. The lightness of touch belies a dark underbelly which will have you shouting for justice for the vulnerable and wronged. But the overall experience in one of pure entertainment building to a hugely satisfying climax. Hail the housekeepers.
The story takes place in an alternative present; a world made small by isolation and the need to survive. A violent murder has taken place but the tale that follows contains tenderness as well as menace. It is told in turns by the perpetrator’s stepmother and brother with a beautiful honesty through which you feel their despair, anger and loss.
Imagine a situation in which you are observing life from far above, then gradually you zoom in and see more details. That’s what this book felt like to me. And the closer I got, the more I got involved emotionally. And so the language also changes. From a laconic, elaborate style with irony and even sarcasm the writing evolves to a more poignant repetitive wording and a loving, honest image of a woman’s failing mind.
Nikhil knows there is more to his father's death than his mother is telling him, but how easy is it to find out the truth when nobody wants to talk about it? The characters in this book are so real to us we love them as though they were our own. Nikhil is suffering at a vulnerable stage in his life and I just wanted to shield and protect him. A brilliant first novel
- hopefully the first of many.
From the opening erotic scene, this book is an amazing mix of physical details, intellectual analysis and moral dilemmas. Passion and courage blend with self-obsession and disregard for others, especially women. The evocation of a moment when things could have been different for gay people, 100 years before they were, is extraordinarily moving.
At times laugh out loud funny, often poignant and always engrossing, the reader inhabits the intense turmoil of Cleo and Frank’s relationship and the lives of those closest to them: lives lived flippantly and always on the verge of disaster. This novel has a hard honesty to it and contains scenes of sexual violence and self harm.
Wilder, a lonely boy, spends a summer by the sea and is confronted with an intruder called the Dagger Man, several missing women and a confusing friendship. A gruesome discovery haunts him for a lifetime and is the reason for a rift between him and a friend who steals his life story. Such an intriguing, dark, spooky and exciting read, I found it a real page turner - and I didn’t see the end coming at all.
Set after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, we follow beekeeper Sergeyich, an inhabitant of the war-battered eastern Grey Zone, as he journeys through Ukraine to seek a safe location for his beehives. His quest navigates us through the complexity of contested territory, where nature, surreal humour and stoic kindness lift an undercurrent of shell-shocked numbness. An illuminating, humane read of care and survival within unending conflict.
I wasn’t always sure I liked Paula - and that may be an issue for some readers - but the delicate prose drew me into this poignant portrayal of her double loss of death and betrayal. Occasional lighter moments mean that whilst this is sad, it isn’t depressing, and its brevity means the plunge into the numbness of her grief doesn’t last too long. My favourite parts were of Paula at work on the neonatal ward, and I found those very moving.
An isolated Welsh village, the heatwave of 1976 and the grief of losing a child create a stifling atmosphere for this coming of age story. The threat and foreboding builds as neglected and isolated Nif looks for answers, drawing on superstition, folklore and a taste for cruelty. This is an unsettling read; shocking and haunting.
Some books go so deep it is hard to describe them at all. Starting from a policeman’s retirement, this story opens out into the trauma of Ireland, a violence kept secret, its effects explored with such tenderness and empathy it is heartbreaking. The language and landscape are immense and the love of humanity that comes through every page is extraordinary.
Just one mistaken interpretation of a historic manuscript in the Bodleian is all it takes to send her into the elation of having discovered England’s first female artist- and the stress of the thesis that follows, culminating in the realisation of the mistake, is all it takes for the fatal disintegration of her personality. The journey through her mindscape will chill you with its overlays of everyday relationships and the pathological inability of facts to stay true.
The Rabbit Hutch is the tower-block in which the characters of this novel reside: living in close proximity yet at a distance from one another. There is mundanity, the extraordinary and trauma in the lives depicted, which all converge in a single moment, the moment the novel starts, when the main character 'exits her body'. Shocking from the start, this is a provoking, tumultuous read. It will make you think, laugh and despair in equal measure.
Imagine a city created by a rather malevolent god and watched over by one of his guardian angels. That city is Lagos and the angel looks after the 'vagabonds' - people attracted to the same sex, which is illegal in Nigeria. This is a story about how they survive, undercover of the protection of the angel. It is a story of bewilderment, of defiance, of courage and, most of all, of survival against all the odds.
A disturbing, coming of age story of a young slave girl in 17th century Brazil, seeking to find her identity. As she is moved from plantation to plantation she hears of a place called Palmares where former slaves are said to be free. But is it the paradise it seems? This complex tale is told in a dispassionate way, but is woven with magic realism and mysticism. bringing a sense of hope to an otherwise bleak struggle.
What a lot to pack into one short book! I got totally caught up in each successive generation as the story moved from Cuba to Miami, El Salvador to Texas. The voices are so strong and honest, it’s a moving exploration of women’s strengths and their failures – and a quietly devastating analysis of what they are up against.
A lyrical coming of age story set within early 1980's Poland. We follow soon-to-graduate Ludwik and their rapidly blossoming love affair with Janusz, in the temporary idyll of a summer camp. Soon, the grip of the repressive State exerts its ever stronger hold over Ludwik's attempts to live a life true to themselves. Both the freedom and the constraint is powerfully drawn - I found this an evocative and illuminating read of individual resistance.
Horror, thriller and fantasy meet in this novel, which kept me awake through the night wanting to see how it would end. Liz, a troubled black woman, visits her nearly all-white birthplace to attend the wedding of her best friend Mel. When Mel’s young daughter disappears, it sets in motion long-forgotten memories of a creature in the woods that abducts and maims little black girls. Tense, page-turning stuff.
A chorus of voices combine to reclaim the story of Teha-amana, muse and child-bride of artist Paul Gauguin, and subject of his painting 'Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch'. Set in Tahiti, the book interweaves exquisite retellings of Polynesian origin myths with troubling colonial power abuses behind the painting. Familiarise yourself with the artwork before reading if you can, as this makes the book's multiple voices resonate even more profoundly.
With the simplicity of a fable, we share the thoughts of twin sisters in the first year of their life. They are contrasting personalities: Rose the social butterfly living in the now; Marigold the introverted overthinker who already feels intense nostalgia for the passing of time. Warmly and with a wry grin, the book allows us to reflect too, on ourselves and on time. In these slim 52 pages, I found a vast sense of empathy, sadness and wonder.
This story is based on a winter George Sands and Frederick Chopin spent in Majorca. Funny, desperate and sensory, it is narrated by a ghostly voyeur seeking revenge for the suffering she endured in her own life. She indulges in both experience and emotion by occupying the bodies and memories of the living. This offers an unexpected tale in the ghost story genre and a different view of Majorca. It will make you laugh, seethe and wonder.
There are flashes of humour but ultimately this is an intimate and brutal novella exploring a woman’s identity through her childhood with an abusive, alcoholic father, her abandonment by her adulterous husband, swiftly followed by a breast cancer diagnosis. The short, poetic sentences make everything immediate, so it is both easy to read and yet gruelling as we watch her endure the endless, traumatic treatment. Devastating but compelling.
This book is just up my street - great for lovers of language and words. I enjoyed it tremendously and almost forgot the Japanese dictionary Majime worked on for 13 years was a work of fiction. Was almost on my way out to buy it! Not only does the story tell in detail how dictionaries are made, from the collation of words to the making of special paper, but it has humour and is also a gentle and tender love story.
This is a tender, beautifully composed book, voiced from the outsider perspective of Michael as two key timelines from his family life play out. At times it is brutal and there are outbursts of devastating violence. But there is so much articulate and generous emotion that, ultimately, hope can be felt - especially in the evocation of mix-music that enables culture to creatively intersect. In this deceptively slight book, every word matters.
You wouldn’t think a book about lynching would be funny, but somehow this police procedural story, that addresses both historical and modern day racism, veers from biting humour to horrifying retribution in a setting both familiar and strange. It's loaded with swearing and racial slurs, but that's all part of the satire. As the deaths pile up, and what began as a revenge crime snowballs into something much bigger, it becomes increasingly unreal.
Smart, macabre, witty and decadent this book is a darkly sensual read. Dorothy is successful food critic with an appetite for sex and violence. This is her memoir written from prison which recounts the murders of her lovers with unsettling precision. Be warned you may find yourself compelled to sympathise with a psychopath or even taking a distasteful enjoyment in her crimes.
A beautiful and poetic novel in which the invasion of a hostile swarm of hornets is compared to the political situation in an Arabic country. Sidi, the main protagonist, is a gentle, nature-loving beekeeper who is living in a remote village. On the discovery of the threat to his beloved bees, he takes action, together with his friends. Superbly written it grabbed my attention from the outset and kept it all the way through.
This starts off so you think it’s going to be magical realism with a virgin birth but it’s much more down to earth than that. Brilliant fifties’ setting, strongly realised characters and a detective-style plot that slowly reveals. It’s witty and subtle as the pain of duty and repressed emotion do battle with unexpected love. A real pleasure to read.
This is a compelling read, offering a glimpse into the life of a Black Country miner and a vivid snapshot of 1870's industrial Britain. Unremittingly bleak, Michael Cash's joyless existence plays out against a Mordoresque backdrop. Events are relayed in a staccato, spare style, words are fused, while the use of local dialect conveys a feeling of authenticity. A pacey and original story which brings history to life - brace yourself and try it.
Brutally honest and authentically contemporary, we follow millennial Edie who, facing insecurity in her job and flatshare, embarks on an affair with an older white man. The book unflinchingly explores the intersections of sex, violence, race and power, and the losses experienced by Edie create an unsettling sense of numbness. But there is sharp humour too, and I was left feeling astonishment at the fluid beauty of the book’s language.
I just couldn’t stop reading - I became immensely involved in the story about this dysfunctional family, with the seriously disabled Lucien, the heroic, heart-warming, endearing but also clumsy efforts of 13-year old Brian to look after him, as well as the frustratingly neglectful behaviour of Maurice, their father. But despite the dismal situation I felt compassion, love and care take the lead. Lightness prevails where awkwardness threatens.
Sensual, striking and funny, this novel examines the vampire genre through a modern lense. Lydia explores her dual identities of demon and human, and Asian and British, searching for belonging in food, art and relationships. This is a gripping, thrilling and immersive read to sink your teeth into.
Stories about sexual violence and police corruption do not make for easy reading and the young black woman at the centre of this story is faced with a relentless reality of exploitation. That said, the lush writing, though intense, is never sentimental and Oakland's diverse landscape is vividly brought to life. This novel was inspired by real events, which lends it, I think, an added poignancy.
Despite the serious topic, I found this a lyrical story, full of hope. After the abolition of slavery two brothers turn up at George's small farm and start working for him. His son Caleb was allegedly killed in the Civil War. When August, Caleb’s lover, kills one of the brothers out of panic and hate against the freed slaves, things heat up very quickly. The strength of the novel is in the grey tones: neither side is entirely good or bad.
Federico, mixed-race but white passing, struggles with the privilege he experiences compared to his darker skinned brother. Past incidents reveal Federico's motivations for his work for racial equality and conflicts between theory and lived experience are exposed. The stream of consciousness narrative, though challenging, gives a close connection to the protagonist and makes for an intense, thought provoking read.